Megan Raftis grew up in Harriston, Ontario, a small rural community of about 2,000 people located in Wellington County. Megan is active in the local arts community through her involvement as local youth representative on the Minto Cultural Roundtable where her experience and age provide a unique perspective to this committee. This group supports culture in the community and Megan has been active in helping with storytelling events, culture days and a variety of other activities.
We’re bringing cultural events to town, highlighting those that already exist and opening them up to more people. I like the idea of highlighting culture in small rural communities. It’s not necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of rural Ontario, but there are definitely unique opportunities worth pursuing and worth bringing to wider rural audiences. I just like the idea of opening that side of the town up to more people
It is Megan’s specific interest and experience in theatre, that has inspired her to bring new youth programming to Harriston, contributing to a more inclusive and vibrant community and filling an existing void. Megan has been volunteering her time with the Harriston summer youth theatre program for 5 years.
In communities like Harriston, organized recreational opportunities for young people outside of competitive sports are often limited, but thanks to Megan, there is now the opportunity to join another kind of team. Having been introduced to theatre at an early age through her family’s involvement with the local community theatre, Megan Raftis set out in the summer of 2010 at the age of 19, to deliver the same type of fun and enriching experience she grew up with, to local youth. Already an experienced performer and veteran backstage hand, Megan decided to cast and direct a production involving exclusively youth actors.
The response was overwhelming and, with some assistance from her mother, an actor, director and president of the Grey Wellington Theatre Guild (GWTG), she put 19 actors onstage, ranging in age from six to 16, drawn from five surrounding communities, in the quirky David Mamot comedy Revenge of the Space Pandas.
With another extremely positive strong response and favorable reviews from both participants and parents, Megan set out the following year to make this experience accessible to even more young people. By writing the next play herself, Megan was able to tailor the cast size to the number of youth who had already auditioned. The 2011 production of Amy May Runs Away provided 24 young actors and actresses the opportunity to learn about stagecraft and experience the thrill of live theatre. Writing the plays also solved another problem, namely the lack of good scripts written specifically for youth casts and particularly large casts.
I grew up in the theatre but I don’t sing a note, and so there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to be on stage as a kid. I like the idea of bringing opportunities to a wide variety kids who aren’t necessarily musically inclined. I cast large plays and I tailor them to the cast we get at auditions.
Megan has since written the script for each succeeding production, and the continued growth keeps Megan busy writing and re-writing the plays to ensure there are enough parts available. The goal is to provide a theatrical experience for as many youth as are interested. Through Megan’s work, she has created new opportunities not only for youth in Harriston, but far beyond, where interested community theatres may now see opportunity in performing their own stagings of her scripts.
As the young actors have so enthusiastically enjoyed their experiences in theatre, they continue to return year after year. Since its inception, many parents have expressed their gratitude to Megan and the guild for providing a creative outlet for children who have sometimes struggled to find their niche. Creating access to opportunities in theatre has been important for many local youth, as it gives them a chance to have fun, while gaining self-confidence and skills that can be transferred to so many different aspects of their lives.
When they first arrive, many are quiet and shy, so you can put them in smaller roles; you build their confidence to the point where after a couple of summers they’re the stars of the show. And you see this when you see the kids out in the community too. Many of the kids from summer theatre have auditioned to be ambassador for the local fall fair; I know there are some who wouldn’t have had the confidence, or even thought they would enjoy something so public and performance based.
Through these theatre productions, children learn how to work as a team, the importance of commitment and hard work and the benefits they receive as a result. Many of the children have gone on to become involved in other theatre productions or have used the skills to help other younger children in a leadership or mentoring role. The youth theatre program has proven a boon to both the participants and the guild, which now has a steady supply of local young people growing up with interest and experience in the dramatic arts.
Youth Engagement Showcase
The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.